City votes to raise water rates in unincorporated areas

Pima County votes to oppose price increases
Updated: Apr. 6, 2021 at 7:11 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Tucson Water customers who live in unincorporated areas could see their water bills increase from 10% to 30% more.

It’s called a rate differential which is common in Arizona but Tucson has been reluctant to impose it on its customers.

About 34% of Tucson Water customers live outside the city limits, 28% in unincorporated areas.

The goal is to try to get more people into incorporated areas because state shared revenues are doled out based on population in cities and towns.

It’s estimated the Tucson region loses $40 to $50 million a year because so many people live in unincorporated areas.

The rate hikes would bring in an additional $5-15 million to Tucson Water but there’s some question as to how that money will be used.

“In my view, this is purely and simply a power grab by the City of Tucson,” said Steve Christy, Supervisor for District 4. “And in a way it’s blackmail.”

Christy says it goes beyond arm twisting to get people to incorporate into metro areas.

“The City of Tucson says those who live in the unincorporated Pima County ‘if you don’t like these water rates that we’re going you raise on you, then simply allow annexation with the City of Tucson,” Christy said. “That’s nothing short of blackmail, it’s a power grab.”

But the vote by the board on a resolution asking the city not to do this was passed by a slim 3-2 margin, with District 5 Supervisor Adelita Grijalva and District 2 Supervisor Matt Heinz voting against the resolution, and in favor of the water differential.

Grijalva says she has several reasons for favoring it “the majority of them have to do with our environment, use of water and trying to discourage growth outside the City of Tucson.”

The city discussed the issue at length during its study session but did not vote. Still, there was a great deal of support. The council will likely approve a “notice of intent” to move forward.

That means there will be town halls and a public hearing before the city makes in final vote on June 8, 2021.

But what it does is it blows up an agreement made in 1979 between the city and county. Under the agreement Tucson Water was the designated water utility to provide water to the entire region, even outside the city limits. Pima County would handle wastewater.

“It’s going to irritate some of our friends in the county,” according to Tucson Mayor Regina Romero. “But things change.”

Environmental issues, climate change, water issues and population have all changed since in the intervening 42 years which is leading the city to make the move.

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